by Ramakrishna VenuGopal
Melbourne, April 2: Noting that India is currently rated as the most attractive investment destination by many global agencies, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley invited Australian businesses to invest in India to help the country become a low-cost manufacturing destination.
“India could manage to become a very low-cost service provider but failed to transform into a low-cost manufacturing,” Jaitley said, launching a ‘Make in India’ conference in Sydney on the second day of his four-day Australia visit.
Describing the various recent reforms for attracting foreign investment, Jaitley said sectors like railways, defence and manufacturing now offer huge scope for investments with liberalised foreign direct investment (FDI) norms.
At a bilateral meeting earlier in the day with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Jaitley listed various reforms by the National Democratic Alliance government.
He also said India faces three major challenges – to boost exports in a situation of shrinking global trade, increase private investment and the impact of two consecutive years of poor monsoons.
“For two consecutive years, we are the fastest growing economy in the world. When we measure ourselves by our own standards, we believe that 7.5 percent does not reflect our true potential,” India’s finance minister said.
Speaking on the occasion, Bishop said Australia can play a major role in providing various services to India especially in the field of innovations, research and development (R&D), vocational training and skill development, among others.
Jaitley thanked the Australian foreign minister for finalising the administrative arrangements on civil nuclear cooperation to facilitate uranium supplies to India.
While Jaitley dismissed reports that he would push for funds for the Adani Group’s $16.5 billion coal mine project during his meetings with Australian leaders, saying this was not on his agenda; yet Jaitley hoped that the coal mine proposed by India’s Adani Group in Queensland’s Galilee Basin would go ahead.
“This is a subject which is internal to Australia and this is not the purpose of my visit,” he said.
Last month, Australia’s Queensland state Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) issued a final environmental authority (EA) for Adani’s Carmichael coal mine project located near the ecologically sensitive Great Barrier Reef, but with about 140 conditions.
This visit by Jaitley, follows MAKE IN INDIA – a visionary project of Indian PM Modi, which has now emerged as a global reality. “Make in India Week” was held in Mumbai last month.
The weeklong multi-sectoral industrial was attended by 2500 international and 8000 domestic, foreign government delegations from 68 countries and business teams from 72 countries.
Australian super-funds shy of ‘Make in India’
Local Australian media has not shown much confidence in Jaitley’s ‘Make in India’ with a lukewarm reception of the campaign by local businesses, including Australia superannuation funds.
“His visit to Australia this week should have aroused comparable excitement to that of the visit of, say, the premier of China (second in his nation only to the president) or the vice-president of the US,” wrote Greg Sheridan in The Australian.
Sheridan believes that Australian businesses had missed an opportunity to engage with the Finance Minister of the world’s fastest growing economy.
Sheridan considers Jaitley as “…one of the two dozen or so most important people in the world right now”.
Jaitley said there are huge investment opportunities in his country for Australia’s $2 trillion superannuation industry.
While it may be too early to make a correct prediction on the outcome of Jaitley’s visit, when he addressed a series of meetings with superannuation funds; Jaitley hoped for a quick breakthrough in a long-awaited trade deal between Australia and India.
The Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, are in their “advanced stages” and special trade envoy, Andrew Robb, will continue the negotiations at meetings in New Delhi next week.
“I hope they make a breakthrough quite quickly,” Mr Jaitley said.
Arun Jaitley also met Peter Costello in Melbourne, former Australian treasurer and now chairman of Future Fund, followed by a Roundtable meeting ‘Invest in India’, which was co-chaired by Jaitley and Kelly O’ Dwyer, Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Small Businesses
Following India’s broad investments spectrum focus by Jaitley, the rest of his day in Melbourne covered:
- an MoU was also signed between FICCI and Australia-India Business Council;
- a second session of Roundtable by IL & FS, NHAI, Adani and Great Pacific Capital;
- meeting with Hon’ble Josh Frydenberg, Minister for Resources, for a bilateral discussion;
- after which Jaitley visited the University of Melbourne where he participated in a Townhall style panel discussion with Prof. Craig Jeffrey, Director Australia-India Institute and the local Indian diaspora in the Elizabeth Murdoch Theatre.
Through the protestors – Australian Youth Climate Coalition, chanting “CORAL NOT COAL” – and an attendee quipping, ‘why don’t they go and ask BHP-Billiton to shut their operations?’; inside the Theatre, the conversation began.
After the welcome by the Indian Consul General in Melbourne, Ms Manika Jain, Prof. Jeffrey enumerating his anecdotal tit-bits from a vast reservoir of his long stints in India, particularly the city of Meerut and his friend Mahipal Singh who failed to get a job in the Indian army and now trains the young to get into the Indian army; threw right into the mix – the problem of youth unemployment and lack of opportunities a vast majority of Indian face and hoisted a question mark on the programs of the Modi government.
Arun Jaitley – spoke succinctly and can be summarized precisely as below:
If the question is whether the government can provide employment to 1.2 billion people and encumber itself (with the salary bill) of that kind of liability – the answer is NO, we cannot.
Jaitley said that people were expected to take advantage of Modi government’s various initiatives – programs for Women, Dalits and the poor.
He said that banks have been instructed to create entrepreneurs from amongst Women and Dalits – with bank offering loans of up to Rs15 Lakhs at very low interest rates.
NO end to reservation in India
In answer to a question from the audience – whether there could an end to reservation – so that the talent of the person is the measure of his entitlement – Arun Jaitley said, “maybe I am disappointing some of you – but reservation will cannot be ended – not in the foreseeable future at least.”
Freedom of Speech in India not exclusive to India’s sovereignty
To a question on Modi government’s handling of the JNU and the students agitation in Hyderabad, despite the efforts of Prof. Jeffrey to let him not answer, Arun Jaitley insisted and gave a detailed answer to support the position of his government on the issue.
An eminent lawyer as he is known, stated that freedom of speech (under the Indian constitution) was not absolute and ‘sovereignty of India’ was an exception to that freedom.
He exhorted the gathering, to grab the opportunity with his government’s hundred per cent FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) in Food Processing industry in India and appealed to investors to closely look at other major projects – about 270; being built in India right now.
Later in the evening, Jaitley and his delegation was hosted by Hon’ble Tim Pallas, Victorian Treasurer and Minister Phil Dalidakis, Minister of Trade and Small Businesses.
RV is a senior writer at Bharat Times (with inputs by DM)